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I have been practicing PMI focused Project Management in the IT industry for over 10 years. In this time I have worked in 5 different IT focused Project Environments spanning the Weak to Projectized environments. The decision on what type of support Project Managers have to deliver projects is always determined Top Down by the C or Senior level executive. It is no surprise to me that my favorite environment was a projectized one. This is the experience I will write of here.
The year was 2003 and IT was just starting to get over the dot bomb. I worked for a dot com darling that took advantage of a reissue of stock at its peak. Being cash and credit rich the internet marketing giant starting to acquire compatible businesses. I was part of such an acquisition and this is where my story begins. Working in the R&D department we prepared future releases of our best of breed e-marketing ASP. Engineering, QA and Project Management where based in Toronto, Executive in NYC and the Data Center in Denver. The engineering and QA teams ad augmentation in Pune, India. The company had several products and the one I worked on was mid tier with most of the revenue coming from the adserving powerhouse. This being the case it was never a challenge to get top level attention for our projects and the SVP and CIO for technology visited our Toronto office on a regular basis.
Project Management rested on the shoulders of two PM’s for which I was one. We alternated releases and used a waterfall methodology. The functional managers from each area would dedicate resources to our projects based on sizing that would occur at the begining of the project cycle. Although PM’s did not have any direct report there was a close relationship between the functional and project managers. This close relationship equaled a strong input into the performance review process for the PMs. In general this allowed for a environment that was professional, driven and a lot of fun. Looking back I can honestly say that I have never worked with brighter, interesting and caring people. There where attempts by the senior exec to develop cross functional project management methodologies. Meetings would occur across product lines but critical mass was never achieved and I left this great role for a more lucrative ERP focused job what I now believe to be a bit prematurely.
So in short my lesson learned from this experience was that a PM can get a great deal done so long as there is a direct feed into the performance review process. Whether that is a strong matrix or a projectized environment they both lend themselves towards addressing a power/responsibility gap that exists on many IT projects. Team members have that extra bit of drive when they know their PM can affect their yearly rating and eligibility for promotion.
By their very nature projects depend on the individuals that work towards the engagements success. Project environments vary across industries and types of organizations. R&D projects tend to be be staffed by teams that are interested in technology and less extraverted while, consulting implementation projects are the polar opposite. The common thread in all projects is that it is up to organizational and team leadership to maintain high levels of job satisfaction and recognition. The recipe for success includes measuring levels of engagement, a regular regiment of team building and concise open communication.
Measuring team engagment can be accomplished via a couple easy metrics. The first: how often is the team sick or requesting vacation. Project environments can be extremly demading and in some cases it may be forbidden to take time away. However, once this type of restriction lifts does the team rush to get away? Goal focused milestone time off is a great benefit for hard working IT professionals. However, frequent sick days and the need to constantly take a day off could be a sign that the team is suffering from malaise.
Team building events can be defined as drinks after work, lunch and learns during the week or a full blown off-site company sponsored event. It is important to ensure that there are a mix of such activities for the project and organizational teams to help encourage cross functional socialization. Even the R&D stereotype enjoys a chance to mix and mingle with peers. Sharing of trials tribulations and more importantly success can go a long way towards making people feel like they are part of the big picture. This can in turn encourage better problem solving and insights into available career path thus improving retention rates and employee satisfaction in general.
Open communication is critical at all levels and especially true in todays unceartin economic climate. Both successes and challenges will be discussed through out the company. By making sure the team is informed at regular intervals it is possible to control the flow of information and discourage conjecture and speculation. Whilst economic data is starting to show signs of improvement the employement rate is still very high on everyone’s minds. Many companies have down sized, right sized or made strategic cuts in the past several months. It is therefore even more important to help reasure the troops that business will continue and even may improve once conditions allow for it.
In closing you may believe that much of the above imformation is common sense or even to simplistic. Keep in mind that is is often easy to overlook the simple fact that we are social beings that have a strong desire to belong. As a result treating a project or a company as an inclusive environment will help to encourage the individual parts towards greater achievements. While the war for talent may now be on hold there is no question that once things stabilize and the supply of available top talent dries up, it will be necessary to look inwards to increase productivity and success. The few organizations that start to see the forest through the trees early will have an undisputable competitive advantage.
The world has changed dramatically in the last several months. Barack Obama has taken office, the U.S. has announced revisions to their stimulus plans and even Canadian parliament has started to think of stimulus. As normal everyday citizens of the multi-polar world where do we fit in?
Canada has been fortunate on many levels in the face of tremenduous global financial upheaval and ruin. Our conservative ways have shielded many of our companies from the devastation that we have read about in the global headlines. It appears that the single greatest fear for our economy is what will happen to our trading partners, and in particular our neighbours to the south. Canadian unemployment is now expected to hit 9% from today’s near record low 7.2%. The question is where will the jobs be shed? Auto workers will likely avoid the devastating layoffs that the early 80’s brought them. Manufacturing as a sector will likely not weather the storm as well as the auto industry given the lack of “bail out” for the broader base. The western provinces are now feeling the crunch as the price of oil has fallen dramatically over the past six months. There is no question that the oil business does not have the muscle it did a short time ago. Shedding tears for the oil rich provinces is a waste of time since there is no question that the current low cost will spike again before too long. Such a increase will bring with it jobs and prosperity.
I myself am a IT professional working in the enterprise software space. I have worked in the field for close to 10 years. Many in the workforce will remember the painful early 2000’s job market and I must admit that I am hopeful today we are looking at something very different. As an experienced Canadian IT professional I have spent the vast majority of my time working on U.S. clients. This has allowed me the opportunity to get a close look at the true U.S. economy. While we are more conservative and that has saved us in the financial meltdown, it has also created incredible opportunities in the post meltdown era. Canadian productivty has not begun to benefit from technology improvements nearly as much as our southern neighbours. As a result Canadian corporations not only have the funds but can also implement programs at a lower cost than only half a year ago. In the late 90’s the chartered banks had the chance to buy US banks at bargain basement prices. They never capitalized on that option and in the end pursued a lower risk slower expansion. Could now be the right time for giants such as RBC to both improve productivity and expand their U.S. footprint? Or maybe a harder hit CIBC needs to find ways to lure back investors after the crushing mortgage backed securities losses they experienced? But of course the issues are that coffers are available but understandably gatekeepers continue to hesitant.
The Crystal Ball
Inflation numbers for January in Canada where lower than expected and interest rates will likely continue to slide below even the record lows we enjoy today (3% prime). Will the banks follow suite with a lower rate? The answer is likely yes or else risk another public uproar. So the Canadian consumer will continue to pick up the slack (hopefully) and spend our way out of recession. That will require that jobs and lower prices in Canada continue to be competitive. Although, if you really want a deal you will still have to engage in cross border shopping. Regardless, of interest and unemployment rates, job creation is the most important factor for consumer confidence. If the bright lights in the Canadian economy leverage the current market uncertainty to secure top talent and expand their industry footprints we will be able to navigate the storm very well. Only posterity will tell if now really is the right time to begin less conservative plans for expansion and growth. A path towards innovation and improved productivity can help solidify Canada and its workforce as strong global leaders.